Meet Shatil volunteer, Janice Fricker: “At Shatil, I found a way to make my contribution.”
Shatil is known for many things, but inspiring a new immigrant to stay in the country may be a first.
The blue-eyed blond daughter of a Canadian Armed Forces Colonel and a former teacher, Janice first encountered Judaism at the age of 13. Her teacher decided his class needed a three-week unit on the history of the Jewish people before reading the Merchant of Venice.
“That was my first exposure to the Holocaust,” says Janice. “I went into an existential depression. I lost my faith in God. I stopped going to church and to Sunday school, and I was filled with pain. One day, I looked at a young birch tree, with multiple shades of green in it, and thought, the world is just too stunningly beautiful. It can’t be an accident.”
Janice and her liberal family were close and spent hours in meaningful conversation. No topic was off the table. She knew she could go to her father, whom she adored, with her dilemma. He suggested she research different religions and bought her the Time-Life set on world religions.
“I started reading,” Janice recalls. “There was a transliteration of the Shma in the volume on Judaism and I got chills and started crying. To this day, I can’t say why.”
Janice was hooked. She continued reading everything she could get her hands on about Judaism and Israel and at 15 looked up synagogues in the Yellow Pages, called a rabbi and said she wanted to convert. He turned her away as did two other rabbis. But she didn’t give up.
“At University, I read an article in a Jewish magazine that denigrated converts and Jewish men who marry out. I got tears in my eyes, thinking, Oh, I can’t ever convert. But then a voice in my head said, ‘Don’t’ worry Janice, you can convert when you’re too old to have children.’ So that’s what I decided to do. And I did.”
On a visit to Israel during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Janice was “incensed and heartbroken by the way the world press was covering the war. I decided that’s it. I’m not rich so I can’t support Israel that way, but I can bring my body, my character and my skills and I may be able to make some positive contribution.” She retired early from a long career as a teacher, guidance counselor and head of student services at a high school and immigrated to Israel in 2008.
But with little Hebrew, it wasn’t easy to find a way to make that contribution. Janice decided to give herself till 2020, and if she didn’t find a way, she would move back.
But a chance meeting with a Shatil staffer led her to a volunteer position with Shatil’s development department in November 2017. By March, 2018 she had found her niche and decided to stay.
“I love working at Shatil,” says Janice. “All the people I’ve met here are smart, hardworking and dedicated to improving Israeli society. They are flexible and willing to problem-solve in creative ways and to keep an open mind. And I admire their refusal to demonize people with different agendas for the country.
“Having the opportunity to work, even in a minor role, in support of democracy and social justice is good for me mentally and emotionally. And I’m learning that there is a big, vibrant community working to make Israel truly a light onto the nations.
“There are so many people who refuse to give up the hope of a beautiful, strong, dynamic, healthy country that everybody can be proud of. I want to be part of that.”
You can read Janice’s blog about Shatil’s project to empower women in public housing here.